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Short, Fat, and Stylish: A Fashion Guide for Plus-Size Petite Women

Lesley has been an online writer for over ten years. She has a degree in law and spends her free time writing about gardening and fashion.

Find fashion that works with your shape!

Find fashion that works with your shape!

Petite-Plus: The Overlooked Size

There seems to be a belief that "petite" is synonymous with "elfin," that petite women are tiny, graceful creatures who float delicately on a sea of petals and have waists the size of an average woman's neck. Not true. While some such women do exist, there are just as many (if not more) who are petite-plus: at least average in width and less-than-average in height.

While the media is delighted to fuss over the existence of so-called plus-size models, the plight of the short is totally ignored. Worried you don't get to see models who are a normal size? Forget about width, that's bad enough. Let me tell you about height.

A "short" model is 5' 9". Honestly. That's at least 8 inches taller than a petite-sized woman, and those extra inches alter the way an outfit looks, not a little but completely. Have you ever tried on a wedding dress and found yourself standing on a small dais that allows the dress, which is too long, to fall to the floor? I bet you looked great, but of course, that's not how you would look if you wore that dress on your wedding day because the ratio of width to height would be completely different with two feet on the floor.

What our culture perceives as elegant is a silhouette where the height is several times the width. Take a look at any fashion illustration you've ever seen. Take a look at a Barbie doll, where the length of the leg is way above normal in comparison to the other measurements. To achieve that elegant ratio of width to height, short women need to use every visual illusion they can.

Monochromatic Colors and Vertical Lines

The longer the single blocks of color are, the taller you will appear. A blouse and pants, for example, will make you look short unless...

  1. The blouse is the same color as the pants, and
  2. There is no obvious horizontal line between them.

The ideal outfit for the plus-size petite woman is mostly one color, with a contrast at the narrowest point (usually the neck). The contrasting splash of color at the neck will allow the eye to follow along, an unbroken monochromatic line from feet to neck. This means that maxi skirts and dresses have the potential to make you look slimmer than conventional skirts will.

Jackets can provide great contrast and look good over a matching blouse and pants (especially when left open to show the blouse which becomes, visually, a narrow strip of lighter colored fabric) but if they don't match the pants, the lower edge will form a horizontal line, breaking the line and spoiling the illusion of height.

One solution is to wear pants, top, and jacket all to match, or use cleverly-shaped jackets like waterfall jackets which hang in soft folds without one solid horizontal border.

How to Wear Vertical Lines

Stripes can flatter your figure!

Stripes can flatter your figure!

Dresses for Plus-Size Petites

When it comes to evening wear, the shorter woman can shine in a full-length gown, but even here the illusion can be improved by the use of the right neckline. A V neck creates an illusion of length and can be very flattering, whereas a square neck emphasizes width and is unlikely to look as good. A high neck can allow a longer visual line, as well, although a little skin at the neckline always looks good, too.

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When choosing a dress, remember that solid colors and vertical lines will work with your shape. If you've got the legs for it, don't be afraid of a slit at the side of the dress (which offers a vertical line of skin, after all).

Plus-Size Petite Sleepwear

Nightgowns, pajamas, and robes are just as important—there is no better way to end the day than in a beautiful, sensual silk nightgown that fits, but finding one is often difficult for small women who know that "full length" is a relative term. The best solution is to either use a made-to-measure service (shop at a store that will pre-tailor items to fit you) or alter the item yourself.

If you choose the latter, remember that designs with a lace edge are easy to tailor; by simply cutting off the lace, you'll be able to reduce the nightgown to the right length. "Short" nightgowns tend to fall to the knee on petite women, so it is important to look carefully at the design. If its primary purpose is to show off your legs, forget it and go for something designed to show off your face or shoulders instead.

Although short, plus-size women are not generally used as models in any part of the fashion industry, this doesn't mean they can't look good. Simply by paying attention to the creation of the right visual illusion, you can look just as good as anyone else, however tall you are.

Customizing Plus-Size Clothing for Petites

Questions & Answers

Question: Where can I shop? What stores carry petite stout women’s clothing?

Answer: Before diving in to which stores to visit, make sure you take some measurements. You may be short and fat, but are you equally proportioned? I know I'm not - my torso is normal length, but my legs are not, so stores who sell petite length tops are no use to me, but I do need petite size in skirts and slacks. However, I am 5ft (1.5m) tall and I have to say I have not yet found anywhere where petite size is short enough.

First and foremost I shop for clothes online because websites give you more information about clothes. I have measured myself and know what length of top I like - around 31 inches. I go through catalogues and websites and I'm ruthless - you have to be - if it's not the right length, I ignore it unless it is really fabulous, in which case I look carefully to see if I could shorten it myself.

Whether you can find petite plus size clothes depends on how 'plus size' you are. There are many ranges which will go up to a size 3x, (Lands end, for example, do plus size petite to a size 3x) but beyond that, no. For some reason if you are any larger you are assumed to be an amazon of at least 5' 9". JCPenney, for example, have a plus size petite range, but I could find precious little online above a size 24. Internet searches aren't really useful either, as they often seem hopeful when a brand has a petite range and a plus range, but so often there is no overlap at all.

Lately Ive bought quite a few things from amazon.com, but these were mostly tea shirts from the Daily Ritual brand which I find is great for weekends or under a jacket. I've also bought quite a lot from Torrid. Their listings are very informative and since I know what length I like Ive been able to find some tops in their general range. They don't have many items marked petite but I did find some, though in my case ALL the dresses - and some of them are lovely - were too long, even in the shorter length, but I liked them so I'm taking them up. Some websites will make to your measurements - my most business like clothing at the moment comes from Astartewoman.com, which I can recommend. My underwear mostly comes from Torrid and the rest from all over the place. Old Navy sell slacks and jeans up to size 30 in short, medium and long. I know there are several plus size stores that will sell pants to any length you require, I'll try and update this answer when I find their names, sites like https://www.sumissura.com will create made to measure business suits for both men and women, and of course there is eshakti.com which so far I haven't tried, but I'm looking forward to it since they make to measure. I'm not sure if that's been any help at all, but I am planning to update the article soon, or maybe write another, so if you have found a good experience in plus size petite shopping, please let me know and I can add it to the list.

Question: What would be the best look for a plus-size gown?

Answer: I don't know what type of gown you are asking about, but I'm assuming you mean a formal gown. In general, I'd say keep it simple and one color throughout. The photos of myself that I hate most are when I'm wearing something with frills, at my size (5x) it looks ridiculous (on me), so I'd say stick to a classic style in a color that suits your coloring and make sure it fits well, if necessary make small alterations. If your dress has long sleeves, make sure they are the right length and fit well in width. A dress that fits well will always make you look slimmer.

If the gown has no sleeves and you'd feel more comfortable with your arms covered, a complementary pashmina will usually do the job, and these can be found at relatively low cost on Amazon. Just drape around your shoulders and go. If you are a pear shape, as most of us are, go with a slightly high waist and a trapeze shape. If you have a very large bust, don't pick a very low cut dress unless your bra is first class and you know it doesn't show. Can you go braless? Only you will know. I know I can't.

Wear a necklace that fits; it should sit around your neck, not too tight, and not touch the dress at all. Pearls suit everyone and go everywhere. An alternative is a brooch high on the shoulder, both shift focus to your face from your body.